Traditional home recipes utilize an aerobic process. Some of the bacteria involved in the aerobic fermentation process yield a slimy, scummy, by-product that must be skimmed at frequent intervals. Another "side effect" of the aerobic fermentation is a characteristic unpleasant odor. By using an anaerobic fermentation process, the bacteria that cause the scum and odor quickly die from lack of oxygen thus allowing fermentation to proceed and eliminating the by-products already mentioned.
* For weights, we use scraps of marble obtained from an outfit that makes tombstones. Two or three pieces about 4- x 6-inch work fine. Run them through a cycle in the dishwasher to clean them before using. We've also used a quart mason jar full of water. If you use a glass jar filled with liquid, dip the brass lid into melted food grade paraffin several times, coating it completely, to prevent the metal from becoming exposed to the brine, which would cause corrosion and spoil your kraut.
** When we started making our own sauerkraut, we quickly learned that all cabbage is not created equal, and some varieties are better than others for making kraut. Our favorite is the "Flat Dutch" variety. The heads are slightly flattened as opposed to being spherical, and the heads will weigh up to ten pounds. Here in Idaho we normally get our cabbage in October and store it covered in the garage under a canvas tarp until we're ready to make kraut. I suggest that you call several produce suppliers in late summer or early fall to inquire if they carry kraut cabbage. Place your order early because it seems to sell out rather quickly. We figure about thirty-five pounds of cabbage to make one batch of kraut.
*** Of course to make the kraut, the cabbage must be shredded or chopped fine. Using a knife to cut the cabbage can be a very tedious task. We use two old "kraut cutters" to shred the cabbage one that we found at an antique store, and the other at a yard sale. If you have, or can find, one of these old kraut cutters, make sure the blades are tight and are equal distance apart. The blades on our cutters are adjustable with a distance between of just less than 1/8 inch. If the screws or the blades show evidence of corrosion, I recommend disassembling the cutter and cleaning the blades with very fine emery cloth. Sharpen the blades prior to reassembly. The blades should be very sharp. When I overhauled one of our cutters, I replaced the original screws with stainless steel screws that I purchased at our local hardware store.
Okay, we now have everything we need. Start by peeling off any discolored leaves and trim any other spots as needed. Leave the core intact. It helps to keep the head together while the cabbage is shredded. Shred or chop the cabbage as fine as you want down to the core into one of the two plastic tubs until you have seven pounds shredded. Take 1/4 cup salt and sprinkle over the cabbage, mixing it into the cabbage with your hands. Set this tub aside and let the cabbage begin and continue to sweat for a few minutes while you shred another seven pounds into the other tub. Add 1/4 cup salt and toss this tub of cabbage lightly as well to distribute the salt.
Once the first tub of cabbage has sweat for a few minutes, dump the contents into the plastic bucket. Rubber gloves, although not necessary, will make this part easier and help to protect your hands. Make a fist and tamp the cabbage until brine forms and covers the shredded cabbage. Add the second tub of shredded, salted, cabbage. Repeat the process of tamping until the brine rises just above the level of the cabbage. Repeat the whole process with two more tubs of shredded cabbage, seven pounds each. At this point your bucket will be just over 3/4 full with twenty-eight pounds of shredded, salted cabbage and the brine is above the cabbage.
Next, place whatever you are using for an inert weight on the old dinner plate you drilled the holes into. Completely wrap the plate/weight combination in at least two layers of cheesecloth and put this on top of the shredded cabbage. This should be just enough weight to hold the shredded cabbage below the surface of the brine. Now place the two sheets of heavy-duty clear plastic over the top of the bucket. While one person holds the plastic in place, take the electrical wire and make two loops around the top of the bucket that will hold the plastic sheeting in place. Imagine you are making a drum out of the sheeting and the plastic bucket. Make sure that the two strands of wire cross only once. With a pair of pliers, twist the two strands of wire together until the plastic is held in place by the wire. Grasp the bottom of the plastic sheets and begin pulling the wrinkles out of them. Alternately, twist the wire slightly tighter and continue pulling the plastic sheets free of wrinkles. Your objective is to make this an airtight seal. A word of caution, do not over twist the wire or it will break and you'll have to start over. At this point take a permanent marker or piece of tape and mark the level of the brine on the outside of the bucket. I recommend the opaque or white buckets because it makes it easier to check the brine level during fermentation. Your kraut is now ready for fermentation.
Place the bucket in a small closet or similar room where you can regulate the heat. We use a basement storage room with a small electric space heater for heat. Let the bucket sit for approximately twenty-one days at 70°F. Check it daily to make sure the heat remains constant. After a few days, as the anaerobic bacteria begin to work, you will notice that the shredded cabbage and brine push the weight up until it lightly touches the plastic covering. It will remain in this stage for several days, and then begin to recede. When the level returns to the level of the mark you made on the bucket when you packed it, your kraut has completed the fermentation process. If you are not ready to finish the process, the bucket of kraut can be stored as is by keeping it in a place with a cooler temperature until you are ready.
When fermentation is complete, remove the plastic and lift out the plate/weight combination wrapped in cheesecloth. If there is any discolored kraut on the top, remove and discard. Pack the kraut firmly in pint or quart canning jars. Extra flavors can be added to the kraut when packing. Add 1/2 teaspoon of caraway seed per pint for Bavarian style kraut. We also flavor some of our kraut with 1/2 teaspoon horseradish and 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic per pint. For Mexican style, we chop up and add some jalapenos. Process the jars of kraut by water bath method for 20-25 minutes.
Even though this method is easier than most, and best of all, with no lingering odors it is still a rather messy process. We recommend putting down a drop cloth in the kitchen when you're shredding and working with the cabbage. But you will find as we have that homemade sauerkraut will put to shame any store-bought sauerkraut you have ever tasted. Trust us, the results are worth the cleanup time!
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